By: Brittney Achord
Da Boot Sports!
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - The mountains were not the only thing rocky in Salt Lake as the Tigers clawed their way to a spot in the NCAA Championship Semi-finals. While the Tigers struggled in Round Two on Friday night, fighting nerves, injuries, and the altitude, they secured a spot with a 197.025 for the Regional Finals on Saturday night. They started out on the floor with a vengeance and determination to overcome Friday night’s hardships.
LSU arguably had the hardest region to compete in this weekend. Sure, all teams fight nerves. All teams fight through injuries and soreness. However, the Tigers also fought something far greater, altitude. When you are normally a mere 56 feet above sea level on a regular basis and then travel to above 4,200 feet, it plays a huge factor in your ability to breathe, your balance, and your energy needed to finish each routine strong. The Tigers crushed this struggle tonight opening with a 49.475 on floor, a 49.475 and a perfect 10 on Vault, ending with a 49.525 on balance beam. Every obstacle that came their way, they conquered.
Tigers Found Their Breath of Fresh Air with a 49.475 on Floor
The Tigers improved their floor score by .0125 from Round 2. They left it all out on the floor tonight starting out with a huge 9.875 by Christina Desiderio. Following in the senior’s lead, Alyona Shchennikova and Sierra Ballard put up matching scores of 9.90. Sarah Edwards continued to electrify the Tigers with a 9.85. Anchoring, Kiya Johnson hit three-for-three tumbling passes, danced gracefully around the floor, and put up a bold 9.95 to let everyone know the Tigers were not backing down. Johnson’s score tied the Tigers for first place with Utah’s 49.475 on bars while Arizona trailed by .025 with a 49.450 on beam and Kentucky trailed by 0.15 with a 49.325 on the vault.
With a 49.475 on Vault, Elevation Was Not The Only Thing Elevated
The Tigers continued to amplify the night vault after vault. While Chase Brock got things started strong with a 9.825, the Tiger would only build from there and her score would be dropped. Alyona Shchennikova and Sarah Edwards put up powerful matching scores of 9.85. Eleana Arenas continued to show her consistency adding a beautiful 9.875 to the vault score. Kiya Johnson attacked the vault with a gigantic yurchenko double full bringing the first 9.90 score to the vault line up. Haleigh Bryant anchored on vault with perfection. This being the second perfect 10 for Bryant, she joins Volunteer Coach Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen and Jennifer Wood as the third gymnast in LSU school history to score a perfect 10 on the vault at an NCAA Regional.
LSU’s 49.475 on Vault kept them in the No. 2 spot with a 98.95 behind Utah’s 99.075 and ahead of Arizona’s 98.775 and Kentucky’s 98.725.
The Third Rotation Lands the Tigers in Third Place With a 49.275
This is where altitude really started showing its effects. You could see, as hard as these Tigers were fighting, they were also fighting for energy, strength, and air. After a fall by Kiya Johnson to start things off on bars, the Tigers rallied behind her to keep them in third place. Chase Brock showed fierce perseverance after struggling Friday night, putting up the first of three 9.85 scores for the Tigers. Haleigh Bryant and Olivia Dunne would also put up 9.85 scores for the Tigers on Bars. Alyona Shchennikova hit a difficult routine with a 9.825. It was up to Senior Sami Durante and she did not waiver. Durante swung with aggression and determination that added a 9.90 to finish bars.
The Tigers finished bars with a 49.275 landing them in third place after the third rotation with a 148.225 behind Utah’s 148.700 and Kentucky’s 148.250. Only 0.025 separated second and third place going into the fourth rotation. Only the top two teams would earn a spot to the NCAA National Semifinals and LSU was ending the night on the balance beam.
From a 48.70 in Round 2, to the Best Beam Score away from Baton Rouge in an NCAA Regional
While the Tigers had a very uncharacteristic first night on balance beam with a 48.70 and a not so great bar score that landed them in third place going into the final rotation, the seniors stepped up and led by example of what it means to be a Tiger. Starting off, Christina Desiderio put up a 9.90 routine that would spark a flame that only grew bigger with each routine. After falling in Round 2, Senior Sami Durante showed grace and determination that added a career high 9.95 to the beam score. Alyona Shchennikova followed with an aggressive 9.825. Senior Bridget Dean showed grace, consistency, and how mighty these Tigers can be with a powerful 9.925 beam score. After a fall from Kiya Johnson, it would all come down to Senior Reagan Campbell. Campbell floated across the beam with nerves of steel and a message to all that the Tigers were not giving up. Campbell, needing a 9.90 to put the Tigers in second place behind Utah, added a 9.925 to the Tiger beam score, clenching the second spot from the Salt Lake Regional for the NCAA Championship Semifinals.
With Arizona State and Kentucky ending with matching scores of 197.60, LSU with a 197.75, and Utah 197.925, Utah and LSU are advancing to the NCAA National Championship Semifinals.
The Semifinals will be held in Fort Worth, TX on April 16. Joining Utah and LSU will be Oklahoma, Michigan, California, Florida, Alabama, and Minnesota. The first semifinal session will begin at 12:00 PM CT and the second semifinal session will begin at 5 PM CT. Both will be can be viewed live on ESPN 2.